“I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, live supported by my actions. Whatever actions I do, whether good or evil, to that will I become heir” is to be reflected on often.
-Gotama Buddha (AN V.57 tr. J. Kelly)
What urge or thought must be present for you to intentionally harm another living being? Is it in your mind or your body? What does it feel like? Examine the impulse, apart from the action. If you take on the first precept, it brings your attention to this question – where do MY harmful impulses come from? Whether the intention is pre-meditated or reactive, it often feels compulsive, as if there is no choice. Mild annoyance and rage share this quality. They seem to rise up, uncalled for.
And yet, there is a choice. It is possible to refuse the urge, in the moment after it comes up – if you recognize it. Not so much “free will” as “free won’t”.
Think about when your “striking out” feeling appears. Does it come when someone cuts you off in traffic? When you feel slighted, overlooked, or unfairly treated? When you see a loose dog? A spider? Cockroach? When you feel ill or tired, do you just want everyone to go away? What are the circumstances under which your sphere of concern shrinks down to just your immediate feelings of irritation or anger? When you feel fearful or intimidated? Training with the first precept begins with noticing the arising of the impulse to strike or harm another being, when the impulse arises.
Next up – the opposite of harming.